NHL 10 Review

NHL 10 is not only a great sports game – it is the best sports game of the decade and one of the greatest of all time.


NHL 10 is a superlative gaming experience. It is a game that is near perfection in almost every way. Yes, there are small issues here and there, minor quibbles that have more to do with customization than anything else – but don’t let them frighten you away from this game. In fact, don’t even worry about them, because, they really aren’t even worth mentioning considering how amazing this game really is. If you want a review summed up in as few words as possible, here it is:

NHL 10 is worth every penny. Buy it.

Buy NHL 10 or else...

Buy NHL 10 or else...

Ladies and gentlemen…

The first time I loaded up NHL 10 I expected to start season mode. But what’s this? The main screen asked me to create a player – well, really, you have no control over how the player looks at this point, but you do name him, give him and then you get taken onto a rink. It’s you and the goalie. And this is a tutorial. I played through the tutorial, which taught me how to aim, how to shoot, how to play against the boards and do all sorts of things no hockey game had ever allowed me to do before. Initially, I saw this as a minor inconvenience – “but I just want to play a game!” That is, it was a minor inconvenience until I stepped onto the ice in season mode and realized that I no longer could play the NHL series.

The gameplay was so vastly different that I kept going back to the main screen hoping to find the old controls that I’d known and loved so well until NHL 08. You know, the Arcade controls that allowed you to sprint down the ice, fire off one-timers like it’s nobody’s business, and all that other good stuff. But I couldn’t find them. I couldn’t.

“Fine,” I said, I’ll play the game the way you want me to. And it took me a while to adjust. I wondered how I could effectively play against the boards. How I could control where my passes went to now that they had the ability to move in every direction, 360 degree control. Constantly I was frustrated because my passes went directly into defensemen’s hands. And the goalies stopped everything! “How did they cover that one-timer,” I wondered. Then, I began to adjust. Three or four games in I grew accustomed to the control I had over where my passes went. I began to love the board play. And like many a great philosopher has done, I jumped to my feet. “This. Is. Awesome!”

Suddenly, I understood why they made me do a tutorial at the beginning. I understood the need for different controls, for a steeper learning curve. The team at EA Canada had sought not only to update rosters, improve graphics, and make minor changes. They had sought to revolutionize the sports game. And they succeeded in almost every way imaginable.

360 Degree Passing

The first major innovation in NHL 10 that I want to mention is the 360 Degree passing addition. Why is 360 degree passing so great?

Because, in previous NHL versions, you could only pass in so many directions – north, northeast, northwest, west, southwest (you get the point). And often, the puck would get directed automatically to a teammate. No more, though. 360 degree passing does more to make this a realistic hockey experience than any other innovation in NHL 10. When skating down the ice with a winger to your side, it’s no longer a matter of timing a pass to set-up a one-timer. There’s the whole matter of passing the puck directly to him, which is a matter of incredible finesse. If there are two defenders covering him, you will find that you can’t squeeze that puck through their skates, but you can, with proper aiming, put it between them and onto his stick.

In NHL 10 you have unparalleled control over the puck - even from your knees.

In NHL 10 you have unparalleled control over the puck - even from your knees.

Beyond this, the players react much more realistically to passing situations, and in many different ways – players will actually move to a puck rather than waiting for it to come to them. If a pass is a few feet ahead of them, they will rush to it. Likewise, if it’s just behind them, they will place their stick behind them and pull the puck forward. Players can push the puck ahead of them as they skate down the ice on a breakaway, and, most importantly, passing plays a huge part in scoring goals. Players will set themselves up as real NHL’ers do. Defensemen will stand at the point, and if a defensemen goes to take a slapshot from the point, forwards will rush the net to block the goalies view and to try to deflect the shot. Now where’s John Leclair when I need him? Quite honestly, the passing in NHL 10 is unparalleled.

Positioning

Beyond the passing game, player positioning has taken on new importance, and has also become a standard by which all other team-based sports games should follow. Players rotate the puck around, actively seem to keep their head up, and will position themselves as they should. This leads to a realistic playing game on your end and also increases the importance of certain plays such as steals. Because of the realistic passing game, and because of the improved positioning of the players, breakaways are about as often an occurrence in NHL 10 as they are in a real NHL game. The best way to get a breakaway? Steal the puck.

Along those lines, the improved positioning of players has led to other, realistic aspects as well. Goalies are no longer fooled frequently by the sudden one-timer pass. In fact, you’ll often witness mind-numbing saves as agile goaltenders will slide to the other side of the net to grab a puck that you thought was certain to go in the back of the net. Quite simply, the goaltenders in NHL 10 truly feel like real goaltenders at this point in the series. They make stunning saves that are highlight-reel worthy and sometimes make stunning mistakes that allow a goal. The two great things about the mistake goals, though? They reward both teams equally – the opposition doesn’t score a ton of ugly goals and neither do you, and they occur so infrequently that I never found myself pounding the controller in anger over an awful goal from a mile out. When the goalies allowed a bad goal, it felt like an actual mistake – which is a very, very good thing. Furthermore, the goalies react realistically to pucks outside of the net as well. They’ll skate around to the back of the net and play it safe. They’ll cover up when they should, and more than once I saw a goal dive out of the net to poke away a puck as an opposing player came rushing on. Literally, watching the goalies play made me happy.

And remember the days when bone-crushing open ice hits were a frequent occurrence? They are no more. The players on the ice not only are positioned where they should be, but they react incredibly realistically to the situation on the ice. If a player is coming down the ice with the puck you can bet that nine times out of ten they’ll have their head up. And as a result, nine times out of ten, they’ll dodge your attempt to knock them to the ground on open ice. This makes the game much more realistic, and also increases the joy in witnessing a bone-crusher. Level a player now and I guarantee you’ll jump for joy out of pure adrenaline. That huge hit took a lot of work.

Open ice hits are no longer a give-in (but it's easier to destroy the Bruins - those wusses).

Open ice hits are no longer a give-in (but it's easier to destroy the Bruins - those wimps).

Board Play

Speaking of hits, one of the most highly touted aspects of NHL 10 is the new board play feature. This is another one of those innovations in NHL 10 that simply puts it head and shoulders above all other sports games, ever. Board play is one of the most important aspects of a real game of hockey. The puck frequently ends up along the boards and player often get into huge scrums where they fight for the puck as one player stands over it and a bunch of others poke their sticks in between his skates, trying to get it out.

Board play is a true innovation and is incredibly well-done.

Board play is a true innovation and is incredibly well-done.

In NHL 10, not only does this actually happen, it feels realistic, too. Players will go into the boards and set themselves up to fight for the puck. And as a defensemen, you can fight to get that puck back, slamming the player into the boards, pinning them down and kicking for that puck. Even more amazingly, the control along the boards is fantastic. You can glide into the boards and kick the puck out along the boards to a teammate as a defensemen comes rushing in to crush you. You can push back, fighting violently for control.

Adding to the fervor of the board play are the fan interactions. When players fight against the boards you can hear fans pounding away at the glass – just like in the NHL. But beyond that, you can actually see the fans standing up and hitting the glass. This only further enhances the board play aspect of NHL 10 and brings me to my next point –

Fan Interaction

The fans in NHL 10, while a minor part of the game, have had more attention paid to them this year than in any other season of the NHL series. I didn’t really appreciate them until, a while into the game, I took notice of something amazing. While at an away game, I scored a goal and noticed not only the hush of the crowd, but that there was a small amount of cheering from fans of my team at the away game, who, donning Habs jerseys, were standing up, celebrating. It was amazing to me that enough thought went into creating a realistic environment that even at away games there would be fans who were happy to see my team score.

Beyond that, there is, of course, the antics of fans against the glass as mentioned before, and then there is the playoff atmosphere. During the playoffs, fans wave white towels and seem louder than before. It’s pretty neat to see such a frenetic playoff atmosphere, and I applaud the NHL team at EA Canada for creating an experience that celebrates why the playoffs are a big deal and makes you feel that they are a big deal due to the reactions of the fans.

If I had any sticking point about the fans it would be this: I was hoping for realistic crowd chants. Yes, there are crowd chants. The crowd in Montreal cheers “Carey! Carey! Carey!” when Carey Price stops a breakaway, and they chant “Go Habs go!” but I found myself wishing there was one more cheer in there. Anyone who has watched a Canadien’s home game knows the cheer well. After a big play, after a goal, or when they’re trying to rev up their beloved Canadiens, the Montreal fans will scream “Olé, Olé, Olé!” Likewise, other clubs have their individual, unique cheers and chants, and I wish that the EA Canada team would have spent some time recording those cheers to make an even more realistic experience. So, you see, I do have a problem with something in the game, it’s just that it’s a very, very minor thing that barely detracts at all from the experience. But maybe next year…?

Fans wave towels and celebrate - and if you look closely you can see some even wear vintage jerseys.

Fans wave towels and celebrate - and if you look closely you can see some even wear vintage jerseys.

In addition to the wonderful fan interaction, EA Canada deserves credit for crafting a celebration at the end of a long, Stanley-Cup winning season. My problem with NCAA Football and Madden NFL has always been that I work hard to reach the national championship or the Super Bowl only to have the announcers, the fans, and the end of the game treat it like any other game. The whole point of a single-player sports gaming experience is to reach the championship game or series. And not having a celebration at the end, to not acknowledge that accomplishment is akin to a first-person shooter ending without warning, without a big conclusion.

Luckily, the NHL series has always acknowledged the importance of not only the Stanley Cup finals, but also of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and this is shown through the announcer’s comments during the playoffs and in the celebration at the end of the Stanley Cup. Players mob each other, the Conn Smythe is awarded, and then the Captain hoists the Stanley Cup. Thank you, EA Canada, for recognizing that winning the Stanley Cup is just about the closest thing one can come to winning the game in sports titles.

NHL 10 rewards you for winning the Stanley Cup with a true victory celebration - hey, the announcers even recognize that it's the Stanley Cup.

NHL 10 rewards you for winning the Stanley Cup with a true victory celebration - hey, the announcers even recognize that it's the Stanley Cup.

Fighting

Finally, there’s a new fighting mode – first person fighting. And frankly, it’s quite good. In previous NHL iterations, you simply pounded away at the buttons to knock down the other guy. Now, you are right in their face. You pull at their jersey, block their punches, swing at them and knock off their helmet. All in all, it isn’t as realistic as it could be but it’s damn good. In fact, one of the coolest things about the fighting is that afterwards, you may have a black eye. And that black eye will last for a while, making your player look tough or beaten up, depending on how he fared.

I can’t mention the fighting, either, without mentioning the post-whistle play. Like in the real NHL, most fights and shoving in NHL 10 happen after the whistle. Did a guy on the other team just hit your star center after the whistle? Send in Georges Laraque or any other tough guy and start a fight with him. He may fight you, he may run away, and it may even begin a big scrum where several players on the ice are pushing each other. It’s realistic, and its fun and my god it’s awesome.

In addition, by fighting, forechecking, hitting and more, you can set the tempo for a game. Hit hard and hit often and your opponents might drop the puck more often or make a mistake. They might become rattled, exposing them to turnovers and fast-breaks. Furthermore, the ability to protect your stars and fight back against bad hits and late shots and more only increases the feeling of realism attached to the game. Those hits now mean something.

How about modes? We’ve got everything you could want!

The other thing EA Canada deserves credit for is for making a game with enormous replay value. NHL 10 not only allows you to play in season mode, which is your standard fare where you are the coach, the GM, and you can play as a team, it has a veritable blizzard of other options.

Be A Pro

Be A Pro mode is, simply put, amazing. You use the player you created for the tutorial; however, now you have complete control over how he looks, where he’s from, how old he is, his number, and even his equipment. You can edit him with much more control than you can in any other sports game (with the possible exception of FIFA) and then you step into his shoes.

I put myself into the game as a pro, and the game starts you off with two options. Choose a team or, be drafted. If you choose to get drafted you first play in the Prospects Game. You play on either than World Team or the North American Juniors team. And, over the course of one game, you have a chance to show off and try to move up in the draft. Score a couple of goals, notch a couple of assists, and you may find yourself being the top pick. Afterwards, you get drafted by a random team, get signed, and begin playing. Of course, you aren’t guaranteed to have a spot on the NHL team. In fact, you get a test run at the NHL level, playing a few games, but unless you are stunningly talented on the ice, you’ll probably be sent down to the AHL to work your way up. This in itself is an achievement because you aren’t automatically handed the top level. You have to earn it.

Further making Be A Pro mode excellent beyond measure is the presentation. If you choose to play authentically (the default selection), you will control your player and your player only. When he gets tired you will skate him off the ice, and then, you will sub yourself back in.

The presentation also excels by offering a different viewpoint. Rather than the traditional top-down view, Be A Pro mode follows your skater closely at his heels. And it’s not just your job to score goals and notch assists. In order to be an exemplary player you need to position yourself well by being in the right place at the right time and you also need to contribute to the team. After each game you will receive a grade in three categories from your coach – Statistics, Team Play, and Position. Team Play is the toughest grade to excel in – you have to make big hits, make good passes, and not take penalties. All will detract from your final grade for each game, which in turn affects how many experience points you will earn to upgrade your player’s statistics.

Be A Pro truly makes you feel as though you are a pro in the NHL or trying to rise through the AHL. It is a fantastic game mode.

Goalie saves are incredible this year, and the goalies act realistically on the ice.

Goalie saves are incredible this year, and the goalies act realistically on the ice.

GM Mode

GM Mode differs from Season mode in that you assume all of the duties of a GM. It is your job to draft players. It is your job to place players on the trading block and make blockbuster deals. And it’s all your responsibility to manage the team, moving players from the AHL to the NHL, signing contracts, and more.

While you can do many GM Mode things in Season mode, the difference is that GM Mode focuses upon specific tasks and expectations as a general manager. You have two blackberries upon which to propose trades and receive calls from other GM’s, and quite frankly, in GM mode, the other GMs and the NHL in general acts as it would in real life. Big blockbuster trades happen at the deadline. Tips are sent in regarding stars who are being shopped – though you never know exactly who it is or how to deal with them (it’s part of the challenge).

GM Mode is engaging and fun. If you want to, you can play the games just like in season mode, but I preferred to tackle it like a true GM. I simmed each game of the season and adjusted my roster accordingly and also tried to make trades at the deadline that would bolster my team’s chances of making the playoffs. Initially, GM mode didn’t feel like something I would come back to, but then I realized that it represented an entirely different and rewarding experience in which I was able to see if I had what it took to be a GM.

When the first season of GM mode was finished my team missed out on the playoffs by three points despite the last-minute deal I’d made to acquire Milan Hejduk from Colorado for a first round pick and Mathieu Schneider. I had failed to make the playoffs and I wanted nothing more than to prove my perceived “critics” wrong and show that my draft picks would develop quickly, that our young players would flourish, and that we would soon be a powerhouse. In short, GM mode is addicting in its own way.

Other Modes

Beyond Be A Pro, Season, and GM mode, NHL 10 features Battle For The Cup mode, which allows you to create a personalized playoff experience, Tournament Mode where you can create a personalized tournament or play in an Olympic-type tournament between national teams. You can even take on the Canadiens century team. Try that on hardcore for a seriously difficult experience.

Graphics/Sound

The graphics are not the best you’ve ever seen, but they don’t need to be. They’re still great and they accurately portray hockey. Players move fluidly and their actions look realistic, not chunky or fake. The arenas look awesome and the crowd reactions are wonderful. The sound of fans chanting, the reactions to a play, the slamming of bodies against the boards and fans hands against the glass are all realistic and serve to inrease the sense of atmosphere and realism.

The Last Word

NHL 10 is a superlative experience. In fact, it’s one of the best video game experiences I’ve ever had. The learning curve is a bit difficult, but it’s well worth the several games it takes to adjust to the controls because this is not just a good sports game. It is not just a great sports game, either. It is, to be honest, one of the greatest sports games ever made. Never before has a sports game captured all the excitement of a sport so accurately. Never has a sports game featured such realistic gameplay, such properly executed positioning and roleplaying. This is a game that offers an experience that is as close as you can come to playing hockey on ice. It is engrossing, its replay value is extensive beyond words, and the improvements to everything overall is stunning.

NHL 10 is a must have for every video gamer.

The Scoreline


96%


+     Fluid, extremely realistic gameplay and AI actions

+     Great atmosphere, graphics and sound

+     A plethora of game modes


–      Um…the team specific chants are generic “Go team go” chants?